Decades-old and rich in atmosphere, these legendary shops offer nothing less than history in a bowl.
Tokyo is a city of relentless change, where construction never ends in an endless cycle of old replaced by new. But thanks to Japan’s reverence for mastery and tradition, establishments still exist that serve recipes dating back to ramen's origins, over 100 years ago. Here are a few of the most influential old school ramen shops in Tokyo — step through their entryways for a peek into the past; sip their soup to quite literally taste history.
EIFUKUCHO TAISHOKEN (1955)
Eifukucho Taishōken serves a classic Tokyo fish-based shoyu soup, presented with thin, curly noodles, menma, chashu and a small piece of yuzu for flavor. It's a deceptively simple, albeit massively sized bowl. There is also a thin layer of scalding oil on the surface, sealing in the heat and waiting to burn the tongues of first-time patrons. Bamboo shoots and a raw egg for dipping on the side are the recommended toppings. Originally opened by Kenji Kusamura, and family owned and operated since the beginning, the shop has been serving the same menu out of the same humble location since 1955. There are a number of Taishōken shops in the Kanto region with direct ties to this shop. A Tokyo ramen institution. (No relation to Higashi-Ikebukuro Taishōken and Shinkawa Taishōken, two other Tokyo shops with rich histories and similar names).
HARUKIYA (1931 / 1949)
Harukiya is one of Tokyo's longest standing serious ramen shops. Harukiya Honten began in 1931 as a soba shop and added ramen to the menu during the post-war period. The original shop is still in operation, serving housemade soba and an ancient version of a Tokyo shoyu ramen. The shop itself, although rebuilt sometime in the postwar period, feels very much from another era. In 1949, as Japan was still reeling from the devastation of World War II, the original master's brother, Itsuo Imamura, opened up his own ramen shop in a street stall nearby. Over the years, he refined a soup made with niboshi, vegetables and shoyu, which the shop still serves. Today, this branch of Harukiya is considered by many to be one of the true OG Tokyo ramen shops. Amongst the influential, old school Ogikubo shoyu scene, it has a devout following. The shop's housemade noodles are “are kneaded by hand every morning while taking into account the day's weather and humidity,” according to Harukiya's own description. Like many old-school bowls, this one comes piping hot thanks to a generous layer of chicken oil floating on the surface. A highly nostalgic bowl, preserving authentic taste from another era. A second branch in Kichijoji serves a similar menu and also has been open for decades.
A farmer from Niigata Prefecture, Shigekatsu Kusamura moved to Tokyo sometime in the late 1940s and started a noodle company, Kusamura Shōten. His son Matsuo Kusamura opened the ramen shop Kusamura in 1950, and his younger son Kenji Kusamura would go on to open Eifukucho Taishōken in 1955. Kusamura to this day is a highly nostalgic destination, still family owned, and doing things the old school way. The shop decor is outdated but no one seems to mind. Simple Kusamura Shōten noodles go into a clear, katsuo-heavy shoyu soup, ladled out of a pot that looks like it has been used for many decades. House-made gyoza dumplings are thick and plump, available for take-out as well. One of the true relics.
Maruchō is a legendary ramen shop within the Tokyo scene. The shop was established in 1947 by a group of five soba masters who came from Nagano Prefecture and began serving a cheap shoyu ramen during the desperate days of the post-war period. According to local lore, it was common for the staff to take the leftover noodles from the strainer and eat them soba-style, by dipping them in a more concentrated version of the ramen soup — a proto form of tsukemen. Other shops were the first to take this innovation and put it on the menu as tsukemen, and Maruchō followed suit slightly later. Today, this bowl is probably as close to the original tsukemen as you can find anywhere. The soup is made with chicken, pork, vegetables and a generous dollop of MSG. The noodles are house-made and served slightly softer than average. One of the original five masters, Aoki-san, ran the shop for decades before his son (who is now elderly himself) took over and is still running the kitchen to this day. There are numerous other Maruchō shops around Tokyo, most with direct lineage to this flagship. A historical site in the Japan ramen world.
Raishūken began as a noodle company back in 1910. In the 1920s, the company branched out to open its first Chinese restaurant and over time the lineage extended into other restaurants around Tokyo. In 1950, the Asakusa branch specializing in ramen opened its doors, and not much has changed since — a rustic kitchen, funky old decor and the walls lined with autographs from the countless Japanese celebrities who have visited over the years. The house specialty is the Tokyo classic dark shoyu ramen, served with yellow, curly noodles, thin slices of chashu and a traditional naruto fish cake. Wontonmen, yakisoba and Chinese-style shumai (steamed pork dumplings) flesh out the menu.
Other legendary old shops to check out:Fukuju (1951)
The interior of this shop feels like it hasn't changed for half a century, which is pretty much the case. Various trinkets and dusty relics adorn the walls and shelves. A simple shoyu ramen prepared in a gas canister-fired wok. Since 1951.
Open for over 60 years in the heart of Shibuya, serving 'moyashi-men' with beansprouts, 'wontontmen' with wontons, and fried gyoza dumplings on the side. The soup is a Tokyo shoyu with dried onions and chewy noodles.
One of the oldest living shops in Tokyo, serving the same soup recipe, from the same location, since 1929.
Sakaeya Milk Hall (1945)
This shop dates back to 1945. Shoyu ramen, curry rice and hiyashi-chūka in the summer. A vintage vibe and a taste of history.